We talked to Jessica Christiansen-Franks, CEO of Neighbourlytics about how they give you on-demand data and an evidence base for understanding people and place. Here is what she said about it.
How are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jessica Christiansen-Franks: Covid-19 has been challenging, but my husband and I welcomed our first baby in October 2020, so that added an extra layer of complexity to the year!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Neighbourlytics.
Jessica Christiansen-Franks: I started out my career as an urban designer and landscape architect. I’ve been fortunate to work across Australia, UK, Canada, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
I’ve always been passionate about learning and understanding the social dynamics of urbanization and went into citymaking because I was passionate about creating community.
Throughout my career, I became frustrated with the urban sector’s focus on the physical space – how tall the buildings are, how wide the roads are, or how full the car parks are.
If you think about the places you love to spend time – the beaches, parks, and markets – it is the social connection and urban life we care about. I believed that citymakers needed to spend more care and attention on these parts, which led to my founding Neighbourlytics with my business partner, and fellow citymaker – Lucinda Hartley.
Tell us about Neighbourlytics – how does your work innovate the planning industry?
Jessica Christiansen-Franks: Neighbourlytics is committed to creating cities people love and feel connected to by providing digital data which quantifies the urban life of neighborhoods.
Having spent a career feeling frustrated at how hard it was to find good data about the human side of cities, we started Neighbourlytics to provide urban planners and developers with a tool to measure, track and compare the urban life of the places we live, work and play.
In the three years since launching, we have provided real-time insights into local neighborhood identity, place attachment, and social connectedness for over 1000 neighborhoods across 12 countries. Our insights provide citymakers – from urban planners to retail leasing agents and apartment developers – with unprecedented knowledge about how the places they plan, create, and manage are performing.
Has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business? Have you had to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons you’ve learned?
Jessica Christiansen-Franks: The biggest shift from Covid is market readiness for real-time, hyper-local insights about community wellbeing and urban life. Prior to coronavirus, understanding local urban life or social connectedness might often have been considered a ‘nice to have on major urban projects – it was clear the industry could understand the need, but its absence wasn’t a pain point. But when Covid forced neighborhoods across the world into lockdown almost overnight, the planning industry realized that this data is essential in planning for the ‘new normal’ we now find ourselves in.
Although this provided a huge opportunity for us, it meant that we made the difficult decision to sideline some of the existing analytics explorations and refocus on a new product direction.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Jessica Christiansen-Franks: We’ve adapted really well to a virtual and office (hybrid) work environment, although not getting to see everyone in person every day has been a challenge purely from a socialization perspective. We are now diligently following “Scrum” as an agile project management methodology, complete with Jira, rituals, and processes to keep on top of our work, and we’ve developed specific methodologies to ensure the hybrid office model works as well as possible for the whole team.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jessica Christiansen-Franks: Our data is truly unique. We compete with urban consultants who would otherwise manually create insights reports for citymakers. But these consultants are our clients too, using our data to fast track their work and provide more value to their clients.
What’s next for Neighbourlytics?
Jessica Christiansen-Franks: We’ve got a big announcement coming soon, but we’re not quite ready to talk about it just yet! The Neighbourlytics team has worked incredibly hard and achieved something extraordinary that will take the business to the next level, and I can’t wait to share the news with everyone.
Any final thoughts?
Jessica Christiansen-Franks: Running a startup can be daunting and challenging at the best of times. The pandemic has certainly made things harder for many businesses out there – but if you look for opportunities and be ready to adjust your approach, especially when things get tough, you improve your chances of coming out the other side with some measure of success. You need to be able to roll with the punches and be committed to the destination, but not really mind what route takes you there.
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